Monument Lane might be New York City’s trendiest restaurant. Not that it caters to the likes of Jen and Justin, or that you get a never-ending busy signal when calling for reservations. Instead, it indulges almost every major food fad of the moment. Gourmet comfort fare (pork belly! Fancy meatloaf! Pot pie!)—check. Artisanal cocktails—you betcha. Complimentary house-made sparkling water—yep. A colonial motif, complete with pull-chain toilet in the bathroom—obviously. All that’s missing is the hybrid food-truck pop-up parked outside.
The restaurant’s name harkens back to ye olde days when this stretch of Greenwich Avenue was called Monument Lane, a reference to the nearby statue dedicated to James Wolfe, a British army officer who helped defeat the French in Canada. The décor, too, reinforces the theme—reclaimed doors function as tables, framed vintage maps adorn the walls, and aged wooden beams hang overhead. If only Old Sturbridge Village had been this visually captivating, I wouldn’t have spent my school trip there bemoaning my Game Boy left on the bus.
Chickpeas fried to a crisp ($4) make for fine snacking while perusing the menu or sipping drinks like the rosemary-tinged, bourbony Oliver’s Derby ($12) or the Peek’s Slip ($14), weighted with fresh fruit. Or split the appetizer of lemon-scented ricotta topped with shaved fennel ($11). Creamy and light, it comes with plenty of bread for scooping—though a spoon would work, too. Among the hot starters, a basket of fried fluke fingers and fat clam bellies ($10) recalls those summer days on the Sound. They’re about as far away from Gorton’s Fish Sticks as you can get—a very good thing indeed.
Skip the two toast options, however—one with anchovies and white bean spread ($13), another with puréed favas and spring onions ($11). Neither adds zest to the evening—unless you like wedding-reception hors d’oeuvres.
But don’t think about passing on the poutine ($8), a gussied-up version of the Quebecois staple. A massive portion of hand-cut spuds nuzzles with cheddar curds and red-wine-braised short ribs, all glossed with a brawny gravy. Listed as a side, it could easily be dinner.
And honestly, it’s tastier than most entrées here. Some do comfort with their familiarity—you’ll find a homey, thyme-spiked meatloaf ($19), accompanied by buttery mashed potatoes and crisp green beans. Lamb sirloin with fragrant rosemary barley ($23) is another good bet, full of flavor and juicy. But other plates falter, like the pedestrian pork pot pie ($18), the dried-out roast chicken ($21), and the squab ($26) with samp—that’s what we called cornmeal sludge until “polenta” came along.
More so than the savory options, desserts evoke Martha Washington’s kitchen. You won’t find her famed fruitcake, but instead a blueberry muffin–esque dish called a buckle ($8) and a crispy frangipane-and-stewed-cherry concoction known as a banket ($8) that’s actually Dutch in origin. Neither of them—nor the oddly spongy lemon donuts ($8)—inspires a return to bygone sweets, though they aren’t terrible by any means.
Except for some hidden gems, “middling” describes Monument Lane. Neither bad nor awe-inspiring. Unlike the colonial soldiers and wars from which the restaurant draws its inspiration, this one isn’t meant for the history books.
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 13, 2011